Skip to main content
Read page text


Rising tides of suffering Sharif Jamil on Bangladesh’s need for global help to counter climate change and pollution

Two-thirds of Bangladesh is less than five metres above sea level. It is part of the world’s largest active delta that discharges the mighty Ganges and Brahmaputra river systems into the Bay of Bengal.

The vital role it played in historical British trade routes and its inclusion in China’s Belt and Road Initiative reflect its importance to the global economy.

This role is now under threat as the effects of climate change combine with the building of a number of coal-fired power stations on ecologically sensitive coastal land to cause environmental damage with the potential to affect global supply chains.

Along the coast, Cox’s Bazar, the fishing port and Bangladesh’s tourism centre, boasts the world’s longest natural sea beach, a biodiversity hotspot that is home to the spoon-billed sandpiper

The southern part of this densely populated country is protected by the mangrove forest of the Sundarbans from the extreme weather patterns that are becoming more frequent and intense from the Indian Ocean towards the Bay of Bengal due to climate change.

These , square kilometres of mangrove, a Unesco World Heritage Site, is shared, with per cent in Bangladesh and per cent in India. The Sundarbans, the last habitat of the Bengal tiger, supports the livelihoods of millions of people.

The mangrove forest acts as a vast carbon sink but its future is being put at risk by two large , MW coal-based power plants in Rampal and Payra. Due to construction of the coal plants, the migration routes for hilsa, the national fish, have changed.

In a positive move, the Bangladesh government cancelled ten proposed coal-based power plants in June , a fitting gesture as it currently heads the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF), an association of developing countries disproportionately affected by climate change.

To ensure this move has a lasting impact,

Shankar Kayal, who lives on the Sundarbans, stands on what’s left of his land which has been washed away by rising tides these cancelled power plants must not be revived as gas-based plants, and the government must aim to close down all coalbased plants. An energy plan to move away from fossil fuels would meet Bangladesh’s commitment as a CVF nation and encourage overseas financial help to mitigate the costs to the Bangladesh economy of such changes.

Due to the rapid industrialization and changes in livelihoods, people from the coastal areas are being displaced as the degradation to the coastal forests, wetlands and air continues apace.

The upstream changes in the Ganges and Brahmaputra river systems make it worse when the erosion in the coastal region is hit by the surges from the sea.

It is estimated that about , people have been migrating each year from Bangladesh’s coast because of the damage wrought by climate change. Of these, about , arrive in Dhaka.

The densely populated capital suffers from high air pollution, flooding, traffic congestion and a shortage of fresh ground water. There are about , people living in each square kilometre of Dhaka. In the slums, this figure rises to about , . It is to these slums that coastal migrants head, working in the city’s garment and leather factories.

Dhaka occupies a unique setting, surrounded by four rivers: the Buriganga, Turag, Balu and Shitalakshya.

The city depends on these rivers for its water supply, sanitation, transportation, communication and recreation. But the rivers are badly polluted due to the unplanned and unregulated industrialization. According to the World Bank, as much as per cent of river pollution comes from industry.

The textile and tannery industries are the biggest polluters. Both are export-oriented industries making products for western markets. When climate change and environmental pollution affect a densely populated nation, it brings humanitarian catastrophe.

Sheikh Hasina, prime minister for the past years, has called on the global community to help Bangladesh recover from the Covid pandemic by investing and helping in the development of its renewable energy sector. Manufacturers and retailers need to build in a pollution cost to their garments and goods. Would not consumers in the West be willing to pay an extra cents to help prevent the pollution of our rivers and alleviate the suffering of our people from climate change?

A change in the mindset of the policymakers at both the national and international level is all it would take to enforce a comprehensive set of plans to secure a safer and more prosperous future for Bangladesh. Sharif Jamil is the General Secretary of Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon and a council member of Waterkeeper Alliance






My Bookmarks

    Skip to main content